- A December 2009 report prepared by Oxfam International,
Amnesty International UK, United Civilians for Peace, Christian Aid, and
a dozen other international NGOs (called NGOs below) titled, "Failing
Gaza: No rebuilding, no recovery, no more excuses" is hard-hitting
and to the point.
- It says a year after Operation Cast Lead, extensive damage
hasn't been repaired and thousands "are being prevented from rebuilding
their shattered society." It's not from a lack of commitment or enough
resources with over $4 billion in pledged aid. It's because Israel blocks
goods and equipment from entering Gaza. The world community and Arab world
do nothing to stop them, so much of the Strip still lies in ruins.
- Following Hamas' January 2006 electoral victory, all
outside aid was cut off. Sanctions and an economic embargo were imposed,
and the democratically elected government was falsely designated a terrorist
organization and isolated. Stepped up repression followed as well as regular
IFD attacks, killings, targeted assassinations, property destruction, and
more. Gazans have been imprisoned ever since.
- Since June 2007, the Strip has been under siege, described
in an August 2009 OCHA report ("Locked In: The Humanitarian Impact
of Two Years of Blockade on the Gaza Strip") as a:
- "protracted human dignity crisis with negative humanitarian
consequences." At its heart is the "degradation (of) living conditions,"
the erosion of livelihoods, the lack of vital services in the areas of
health, water, sanitation and education, and the collapse of essential
infrastructure in the wake of Operation Cast Lead.
- Gazans can't leave, export anything, or live freely on
their own land. In addition, Israel lets in restricted amounts of essential
goods, far too inadequate to relieve the grave humanitarian crisis by design
to essentially starve its residents into submission, or perhaps eliminate
as many of them as possible by slow motion genocide.
- In addition, all materials needed to rebuild are prohibited,
including cement, glass, wood, gravel, steel bars, spare parts, and more.
In May, the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce reported unemployment reached
65%, poverty 80%, and the longer the siege continues, the higher these
figures go. Further, 96% of Gaza's industrial capacity was destroyed and
closed, and well over 80% of the population is aid-dependent. Yet most
get below minimal amounts of virtually everything.
- International Responsibility
- Expressing alarm and frustration, the NGOs say:
- "Israel has the primary responsibility to end the
blockage." So does the world community to stop the illegal collective
punishment of 1.5 million people. "The people of Gaza have been betrayed
(by powerful nations) which can and must do far more to end the illegal
and inhumane blockade:" an unconscionable grievous crime against
- The NGOs' report focuses on what the international community
can do, especially the EU as "a major funder of humanitarian and development
programmes in (Occupied Palestine) and Israel's largest export market."
- Thus far, its nations have abstained, as have others
able to help. In a March 2008 report, many of the NGOs warned that the
siege caused the most deplorable conditions in Gaza since the 1967 war
and occupation. Then in September, they examined the Quartet's record (the
US, Russia, EU and UN), warning that:
- "if the cessation of violence ends, the consequences
for civilians - both in terms of violent attacks against civilians and
the humanitarian situation - will be dire. To this end, all Quartet members
should demonstrate robust, public support for the cessation of violence
and take further steps to deepen it."
- The two and a half year siege, compounded by Operation
Cast Lead's mass killings and devastation "left a legacy of destruction
and loss. It is time to allow the people of Gaza to begin to pick up the
shattered pieces of their lives and rebuild, by ending the blockade that
prevents them. There must be no more excuses."
- Israel's Agenda: Siege and Blocked Rebuilding
- Before the blockade, on average 70 daily Gazan truckloads
were exported and 583 let in with essential and other goods. During the
siege's first two years, about one-fifth of previous amounts got in while
nearly all exports were prohibited.
- Currently, Israel lets in only about 35 categories of
items compared to 4,000 pre-siege. Yet no published list exists, so there's
no consistency on what is or is not allowed as well as amounts. For example,
fruits entering one day are prohibited on another as luxuries, and the
same qualification applies to virtually everything as pure harassment and
- Also, needless delays are imposed. For shelter kits,
on average 85 days; health and pediatric kits, 68; and household items
like bedding and kitchen utensils, 39.
- Construction Materials
- Banning them prevents essential rebuilding of houses
and other structures. As a result, thousands of homes, factories, businesses,
schools, hospitals, mosques, and other structures, totally or partly destroyed,
are affected. So are razed agricultural lands, destroyed farms, fields,
crops, olive trees, and irrigation systems depriving farmers of their livelihoods
and Gazans essential food in amounts to sustain health.
- Pre-siege, construction materials comprised over half
of Gaza's imports, around 7,400 truckloads monthly. After June 2007, it
dropped to an average 31, and in the past year, it's a bare four loads
a month trickle. Case-by-case exceptions are made but in small amounts,
then cancelled merely to harass. For example, a promised cement shipment
to rebuild Gaza's flour mill was denied for no apparent reason, and most
entering is smuggled through Gaza's tunnels into Egypt. But it's too little
and at inflated prices so unaffordable for most people.
- Exceptions permitted "demonstrate how possible it
is to allow (in everything needed. Gazans) desperately need (a) systematic,
large-scale reconstruction operations - and (a) change of policy that would
allow this. Piecemeal and patchwork initiatives simply make no impact on
the scale of the destruction which people in Gaza are living with a year
on" from the war.
- The Cost: No Reconstruction, No Recovery
- International assessments of Gaza's destruction range
from $659 - $892 million. Others estimate $1 billion or more because so
much of the Strip was affected, including homes, agriculture, government
and private structures, and vast amounts of infrastructure. The war's toll
left an estimated 600,000 tons of rubble, most still in place, and clearing
it entails 200,000 or more person-days to complete.
- The UN estimated around 53,000 homes sustained minor
damage, but over 15,000 were destroyed or heavily damaged, displacing 100,000
residents forced to live with relatives, in tents, or if lucky in habitable
rented apartments. Many are still there.
- Industry and Jobs
- Hundreds of private factories and businesses were destroyed
or severely damaged, amounting to millions in losses not recovered. Gaza
got a double blow. "Not only is cement largely denied by the blockade,
but according to the UN, 19 of Gaza's 27 ready mix concrete plants were
also either badly damaged or destroyed....including (its) only cement packaging
and storage plant."
- Pre-siege, it was substantial, producing up to 400,000
tons annually. A third included tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, flowers
and fruit, much of it in greenhouses. Farms supplied a portion of Gaza's
food needs and employed over 40,000 people or 13% of its workforce. The
war took its toll destroying an estimated 17% of tillable land, including
open fields, olive, date, and other fruit orchards. In addition, bombing
and bulldozing demolished greenhouses, livestock shelters, irrigation channels,
wells and pumps "on a huge scale."
- Then in May, Israel declared a 300-meter "buffer
zone" no-go area around Gaza's perimeter (in some places extending
up to two km) affecting up to one-third of the Strip's agricultural land
and putting half or more of it all out of production.
- The war caused extensive long-term damage on top of earlier
attacks putting it on the verge of collapse. During the conflict, Gaza's
main power station closed for 10 days for lack industrial diesel from Israel.
In addition, most power lines supplying electricity from Israel and Egypt
were destroyed, causing a 75% or greater shortfall.
- During the offensive, one million Gazans had no power,
and a half million no running water. In addition, sewage couldn't be treated
so it was dumped into the Mediterranean polluting beaches or ran in streets
causing a severe health problem.
- Bombing destroyed transformers, pylons, cabling, and
the main stores and vehicles of the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company
(GEDCO). While key power lines are restored, 90% of residents endure power
cuts of four - eight hours daily. Affected are homes and all other facilities,
including hospitals forced to rely on back-up generators, themselves vulnerable
for lack of spare parts.
- Industrial fuel is also restricted causing the power
plant to switch on and off when it's designed to stay running. As a result,
it's wearing out and may end up beyond repair.
- Water and Sanitation
- Its infrastructure is badly damaged enough to need millions
for restoration. Over 30 water network km were damaged or destroyed. Most
are partly repaired, but nothing in Gaza functions properly given shortages
of everything, including spare parts.
- The conflict also destroyed or damaged 6,000 rooftop
water tanks, 840 household connections, and key storage tanks throughout
the Strip. A lack of cement prevents rebuilding. Generator imports also
are prohibited, essential to supply water during power outages that increase
in winter. Besides water stoppages, lost pipe pressure pollutes groundwater
sent through them to households compounding the ongoing health crisis.
- The WHO estimated that the war destroyed or damaged half
of Gaza's 122 health facilities, including 15 hospitals, 41 primary care
centers, and 29 ambulances. Most now function but far short of optimally
given the siege's constraints. There's a chronic shortage of everything,
including specialized medical personnel to deal with severe war injuries
requiring extensive or complicated surgeries as well as the proper equipment
to perform them.
- Besides the siege's affects, war destruction greatly
exacerbated a bad situation, unrelieved by an inability to rebuild. As
a result, in the past year, 82% of government schools and 88% of UNRWA
ones operated on double shifts to accommodate Gaza's children.
- During the war, 18 schools were destroyed, and at least
another 280 damaged, affecting thousands of students. "To date, almost
nothing has been rebuilt or repaired as a result of the" construction
materials ban also affecting textbooks and other educational supplies.
New schools are needed and damaged ones repaired to begin to restore Gazan
education to normality.
- Israel's Siege
- Isolating Gaza isn't new. Since 2000, it's been subject
to closures, but near totally since mid-2007 in defiance of international
law. By enforcing Gaza's blockade, "Israel is violating the absolute
prohibition on collective punishment in international humanitarian law...."
- Responsibility of the International Community, Especially
- As the occupying power, Israel is obligated under international
law to assure the safety and well-being of civilians - "protected
persons" as defined by Fourth Geneva's Article 4.
- At the March 2009 donor's conference, over $4 billion
in reconstruction aid was pledged, of which $1 billion came from EU countries.
"The EU and the rest of the international community have again taken
responsibility for repairing damage cause by (Israel), but failed"
to see it's delivered.
- For their part, EU nations haven't sought compensation
for damage to their funded projects, estimated at tens of millions in 2000.
- Fourth Geneva obligates third parties to conform to international
law in all respects. So far, effective action is absent despite the May
2008 Quartet's call for a "new approach" on Gaza. None followed
nor from the Security Council's January 8 Resolution 1860 (adopted 14 in
favor with Washington abstaining) calling for an "Immediate, Durable,
Fully Respected Ceasefire in Gaza Leading to Full Withdrawal of Israeli
Forces (followed by) Unimpeded Humanitarian Assistance" and reopening
of Gaza's crossings.
- So far, the Security Council has done nothing to implement
its order, only binding on Israel if enforced. Yet, the EU expressed clear
opposition to the siege, most recently at a December Foreign Affairs Council
- "the continued policy of closure is unacceptable
and politically counterproductive. It has devastated the private sector
economy and damaged the natural environment, notably water and other natural
- It also called for "an immediate, sustained and
unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial
goods and persons to and from Gaza," but keeps abstaining from backing
its words with action. It also hasn't recognized the siege as "collective
punishment" under international law, leaving its statements toothless,
disingenuous, and contemptible.
- So while its members extend new economic and trade privileges
to Israel (after freezing their upgrading during the war), it denies Gazans
the basics of life and contemptuously sells Israel weapons to batter them
again. Also, few of its officials visited Gaza to view the devastation
and assess its affects first.
- In fact, the Quartet contributed to Gaza's isolation
by not recognizing Hamas, the Occupied Territory's elected government,
not Fatah under Mahmoud Abbas and the appointed prime minister, Salam Fayyad,
who usurped it in the West Bank illegitimately.
- Diplomatic Initiatives and Plans
- "The international community appears to have accepted
the blockade, seeking little more than small concessions." Yet in
May 2009, the UN formulated a specific plan to deliver construction materials
for a number of stalled health, housing, and education projects. It guaranteed
Israel's security in return for letting it proceed. Then negotiations got
diverted to a few pilot projects, not the full package, so:
- "almost nothing has been allowed into Gaza under
this plan....The international community's failure to do enough (perhaps
nothing beyond rhetoric) to halt the blockade is a sign of the wider failure
to hold all parties to account for violations of international humanitarian
- In June 2009, Jimmy Carter, like others with similar
- "Tragically, the international community largely
ignores the cries for help, while the citizens of Gaza are treated more
like animals than human beings....Never before in history has a large community
been savaged by bombs and missiles and then deprived of the means to repair
itself. The responsibility for this terrible human rights crime lies in
Jerusalem (under Netanyahu), Cairo (under Mubarak), and Washington (under
Obama who treats Palestinians as contemptuously as George Bush and the
worst Republican extremists)."
- Call to Action
- Stopping this outrage demands action, what the NGOs urgently
call for, saying "no more excuses." They want the Quartet, EU,
and international community to commit to ending the siege, pressure Israel
to assure it, have its government compensate Gazans for their losses, and
hold guilty parties accountable under international law. Otherwise, they'll
be "no rebuilding, no recovery," and no measures to prevent further
attacks or to end decades of illegal occupation.
- Israel's Counteroffensive
- Israel, of course, responded, like it always does when
cornered with no credible defense, so it attacks critics like respected
human rights groups, accusing them of organizing a campaign of false allegations,
misinformation, and malicious personal attacks.
- It also uses Zionist front groups like the Jerusalem-based
NGO Monitor to disseminate propaganda, debase the legitimate human rights
community, and promote a pro-Israeli agenda defending the indefensible.
- It countered with its own report titled, "Trojan
Horse: The Impact of European Government Funding for Israeli NGOs,"
with its president, Gerald Steinberg saying:
- "These (international NGOS) continue to exploit
moral, legal and humanitarian principles in order to promote political
warfare against Israel. Many of the claims in (their) report are not supported
by credible evidence, and reflect double standards. Through this systematic
bias regarding Israel, these NGOs have lost respectability, and the European
governments that fund such attacks share responsibility for this abuse."
- Never mind the array of respected human rights organizations,
jurists, and activists universally condemning Israel's war crimes, documenting
them extensively in detailed reports, and calling for accountability.
- Never mind Israeli officials fearing arrest in European
cities, advised to contact the Judge Advocate General's office prior to
traveling, and a UK arrest warrant issued for former foreign minister,
Tzipi Livni, for war crimes under the universal jurisdiction principle,
by which nations may prosecute alleged criminals for offenses committed
outside their borders.
- According to Richard Goldstone, former South African
Constitutional Court justice and head of the UN Human Rights Council's
Goldstone Commission, its precedent was Israel's Adolph Eichman seizure,
trial, conviction on 15 charges (including crimes against humanity and
the Jewish people), death sentence, and June 1, 1962 hanging.
- Despite Israel's denial, coverup, and protestations,
plus help from what James Petras calls the "Zionist Power Configuration
(ZPT)" and supportive front groups like NGO Monitor, the evidence
is clear, extensive, and conclusive. Israeli officials committed decades
of the most grievous crimes of war and against humanity against defenseless
Palestinian civilians, Operation Cast Lead one of the worst, but many others
also particularly horrendous that still continue near daily.
- Those responsible must be held accountable under the
law, the same as Adolph Eichman and convicted Nazis at Nuremberg. Globally,
people of conscience, including many thousands of Jews, demand and deserve
- A Final Comment
- On December 27, B'Tselem launched a "public campaign"
to lift the Gaza siege, saying:
- "This is necessary to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip
from the destruction wrought by the hostilities....The siege has led to
economic collapse, isolating one and a half million Gazans....and reduc(ed)
most of them to poverty and a life of unemployment, extremism and hopelessness."
- Most of them need outside aid. Many thousands are still
homeless, and can't rebuild because materials can't enter. "Not only
is the siege unlawful and immoral, it is also utter folly." Hamas
is more popular than ever. Global outrage keeps building for resolution
and an end to the occupation. Yet one year after Operation Cast Lead, there's
been no accountability for Israel's lawlessness nor justice for a beleaguered,
oppressed people. No longer can this outrage be tolerated nor should it.
- Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre
for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at
- Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and
listen to the Lendman News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Monday - Friday
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